Five Numbers That Show The Impact Free College Can Have
By Andra Armstrong and Matt Caffrey
This was previously posted on Forbes.com.
Over the past few years, over 200 communities and 16 states have taken a bold move with little fanfare. More and more regions are expanding access to higher education through College Promise programs that cover the cost of tuition for students. And these programs are starting to show real results.
At the College Promise Campaign, we’re highlighting these programs and their successes as part of our celebration of National Community College Month. Here are some of our exciting success stories.
Oregon became the second state to launch a statewide free community college program in 2015. With bipartisan support, the state committed to helping high school graduates by covering tuition and fees at community colleges so they could get the education they need for good jobs. The state went further by offering additional support for low-income students to help cover other costs, like transportation and textbooks.
This investment is already showing a strong return. Oregon has seen a 13% increase in enrollment at its community colleges. For Oregon companies that are struggling to hire people with the education and skills they need, a broader talent pipeline is underway!
Ventura College Promise
The goal of any College Promise program is not just to help students go to college, but to help them earn a degree or certificate that will prepare them for a rewarding career and full participation in our nation’s civic life. Through the Ventura College Promise, students are 70% more likely to earn a degree or certificate within four years than their non-Promise counterparts (among the most recent group of students for which data are available). That’s a real promise for those students and their community.
The difference is even more dramatic for Hispanic students and male students. With the Promise, both groups are about twice as likely to earn a degree or certificate. Across the country, achievement gaps persist showing there’s much more to do to ensure equity in our education system. Results like these show that progress is possible when barriers are removed and students are given the support they need to succeed.
El Dorado Promise
One of the first College Promise programs in the country, the El Dorado Promise funds the full cost of college for El Dorado, Arkansas, high school graduates. Students can attend any college or university in the country, thanks to the generosity of the Murphy Oil company. This shift has not only removed financial barriers, it’s also created a college-going culture. Students are excited about their plans after high school. More of them are taking college-level classes while in high school to prepare for college. Best of all, 84% of high school graduates are now going on to college, compared to 60% before the Promise launched in 2007. Many of these students are choosing to give back to El Dorado, including several who became teachers in El Dorado schools.
Paying for college can be a struggle, but for many students, there’s help that they may never know about. That’s too bad, because in some cases that funding (accessed through filling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA) would pay for tuition and fees even in communities that don’t yet have College Promise. The Tennessee Promise, like most College Promise programs, requires students to complete the FAFSA. The Promise builds on top of those funds to cover whatever remaining cost there might be. That helps keep the cost of these programs down, and it helps ensure that students are taking advantage of every federal dollar for which they are eligible. Because of this requirement, Tennessee is now first in the nation for FAFSA completion, and more students know that money is available to them for college.
Long Beach Promise
Getting to college is good, but how much are students learning? Data from the Long Beach Promise gives us some great answers. Students participating in the Promise are five-times more likely to complete a college-level English class successfully in their first year than non-Promise students. That makes sense. Promise students are required to take college-level English to get their grant. That’s a powerful incentive. And because their tuition is covered, they can work fewer hours, spend more time studying, and be less stressed. Shouldn’t every student have these advantages?
Join us in celebrating all of these impactful College Promise programs this week. Share why you’re #PromiseProud on social media. And on Thursday, join our Promise Proud Twitter Chat from 3:00 to 4:00 pm ET to discuss these programs with students, educators, advocates, and other supporters of Promise from across the country. Follow @College_Promise to find the conversation and be sure to include #PromiseProud as you join in.